July 30, 2010 / 8:41 PM / 9 years ago

Colombia rebels call for talks with new government

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The leader of Colombia’s largest guerrilla movement has called on President-elect Juan Manuel Santos to hold talks with the leftist rebels and look for a political solution to the four-decade-old conflict.

Colombia’s rebels, who once ran rampant in major areas of the Andean nation, have been pushed back by a U.S.-backed military offensive launched by President Alvaro Uribe in 2002.

“There’s the possibility that the country can solve this situation ... through dialogue, conversation, political proposals, diplomacy,” Alfonso Cano, head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), said in a 36-minute video posted late on Thursday on the FARC’s magazine website.

“There must be talks. ... We are disposed to talk until the point we need to fight with arms so there’s democracy,” the bearded rebel added.

Santos, Uribe’s political heir who will take over the country’s highest office on August 7, has vowed to continue the outgoing president’s security policies, which have produced a dramatic drop in violence and an uptick in foreign investment.

This was the first video that the rebels have released about Santos since he won the presidential election in June.

The video’s date could not be independently confirmed. The video, which began with a slide show to the tune of hip-hop music, said that it was taken in July.

The Marxist insurgents have fought a succession of Colombian presidents since the 1960s and had a maximum of 18,000 fighters before Uribe’s government battered rebels down to around 8,000 combatants, according to government figures.

Uribe said on Tuesday before the video was made public that Colombia should not be “tricked” by talk of peace.

“When the terrorist snake feels it is being suffocated, then it asks for peace processes, to take oxygen and come back to poison again,” the outgoing president said.

Uribe’s administration set off a firestorm of accusations and counter-accusations when Bogota charged that Venezuela was harboring FARC rebels and guerrillas from another smaller group in Venezuelan territory.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez broke off ties last week with Colombia, but has left the door open to improved relations with Santos, who is seen as more pragmatic than Uribe.

Caracas and Bogota have long sparred over allegations that Colombian rebels are using Venezuelan territory and over a plan to allow the United States more access to Colombian military bases, in a region beset by conflicting ideologies, rebels and drug lords.

Reporting by Javier Mozzo and Jack Kimball; Editing by Will Dunham

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